In my first Pastoral Counselling class this week we talked about what it means to be compassionate. How would you define it?
Showing compassion is entering into the suffering of others – Carrol Wise
Compassion is the art of communicating the Gospel to someone at their point of need – Phil Zylla
What surprised me was my Professor’s assertion that Compassion is not a natural response; It must be learned. Normally we shy away from suffering. We look the other way; we pretend we don’t notice; we change the subject. Our natural human response to human suffering is fear and self preservation. There is no such thing as a compassionate person, only people who have learned to be compassionate.
I found it interesting that in a room with 20 ministers or minister ‘wanna-bes’ each person said the same thing: They find pastoral care difficult and they aren’t naturally very good at it (I thought it was just me!) It turns out that no one naturally does this well. In serving someone in crisis you are going against your natural inclination. You are doing something that you had to learn to do; maybe from your Parents; maybe from someone at your church. The point is that compassion is an unnatural response of the human heart. It is very much like Jesus but not very much like me; not yet anyway.
5 thoughts on “Learning To Show Compassion”
Compassion, like love, takes action. I believe your professor is right: to show compassion, a person must deliberately change his or her natural compulsions or reactions.
The other art in this exchange that I don’t think is talked about too much is the graceful acceptance of another’s compassion. I believe that the natural tendency is to reject compassionate behaviour or to indulge too much in it. Folks experiencing loss, hurt or difficulty tend to push others away out of anger, pride or an acute sense of loneliness or doom. Others tend to wallow in the attention and to abuse the compassion that is shown.
Learning compassion. Interesting. Since humans were made in the image of God, I suppose before The Fall our default setting was compassionate–something we didn’t need to learn. As I observe young children I see selfish impulses like grabbing away toys from others. Sharing needs to be learned, I suppose just like compassion. When a person believes and becomes a new creation, is the default setting back to compassionate? Is it then easier to learn? Thanks for the thoughts.
Excepting help is a way of showing grace too and people who don’t know grace have trouble showing compassion and receiving it too.
“When a person believes and becomes a new creation, is the default setting back to compassionate?”
Unfortunately, in my experience I haven’t found that to be true. Many Christians are still selfish pigs left to their own devices. Faith in Jesus doesn’t come with a side order of compassion 😉
It would explain why most Christians are more inclined to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” and not “go ye unto all the world and make disciples of all nations.”